Mary, Martha, and Dabo Swinney

Brandon BowersBy Brandon Bowers17 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Rise Above the Lies: Exposing the Lies That Leaders Believe & Embracing the Truths That Will Make You Succeed by Brandon Bowers

That’s been my word all year, Love.
And I said it tonight, we’re gonna win it
because we love each other.
—Dabo Swinney, Clemson University football coach1

Lie #5: Results are greater than relationships.

In January of 2017, the Clemson Tigers won the College Football Playoff National Championship. Pause. Let that sink in. I love the sound of it. My favorite team won! As a young kid, I can remember watching football games in the Clemson Tigers’ home stadium, Death Valley, in South Carolina. I remember rubbing Howard’s Rock. I remember the homecoming parades and tailgate parties. I will never forget meeting “The Tiger” and getting my picture with him, the sounds of the band when the team scored a touchdown, or singing “Tiger Rag.” I bleed orange and white.

On January 9, 2017, I decided to throw a viewing party to watch the championship game. It was my wife, our four kids, and about twenty other friends who wanted to watch the game. We had tons of food, and almost everyone was pulling for Clemson to win (except for a few people, which made everything much more interesting). We were gathered to watch the University of Alabama, who had previously won a staggering sixteen national championships, go head-to-head with our Clemson Tigers. We had one championship to boast of …

Danny Ford.

1981.

Respect.

I remember listening to all the pregame reporters on ESPN talk about how great Alabama was and how powerful a dynasty they had built. Coached by the legendary Nick Saban, they were a powerhouse program who consistently landed the top high school players in the country. Many of those players would end up winning titles and then have successful careers in the National Football League. They were the most elite program in the land, dominating the college football landscape for over five years.

Anyone who knows anything about college football knows that ‘Bama is simply the best. Numbers don’t lie. Clemson, on the other hand, was coached by Dabo Swinney, one of the youngest college coaches in the game but who had actually played college football as a walk-on at Alabama. He didn’t just play; he won a championship there as a player. Coach Swinney was now leading Clemson and building a growing program with far less experience but lacking nothing in heart. It was your classic David-versus-Goliath story, and the battle was about to go down in front of almost twenty-six million people tuning in to watch it live. The game would live up to every ounce of the hype it received.

I remember the excitement of kickoff and watching the entire first half of play. Though no one at our watch party was saying it for fear of jinxing the team, I believe we were all thinking the same thing: We actually have a chance to win this game. Like, a real chance! Clemson was playing almost to perfection while Alabama looked, well, vulnerable. They looked like a team that could be beat. It seemed, for the first time in a long time, we actually had the better team, or at least the better players. We most definitely had the best player. His name? Deshaun Watson. Deshaun was a Heisman finalist with ice running through his veins. Always cool. Always calm. Always collected. He guided the Tigers from the quarterback position throughout the entire game. With only two minutes remaining, Watson led the Tigers on a nine-play, sixty-eight-yard drive that ended with Watson throwing a touchdown pass with only one second remaining. One second. I can still feel the house shaking. We celebrated so hard the TV stopped working. We shook the cables loose from the television. We didn’t care. It was over. We had won.

The real formula for Clemson’s success takes place behind the scenes. It takes place in the conversations most of us will never see the transcripts of. It takes place in small towns across the South and on road trips in the off-season. It takes place during phone calls and emails we will never know about. All those touchdowns you see on Saturday actually begin with conversations that take place on somebody’s couch. Dabo Swinney is one of the best college football recruiters in the nation. In fact, he might be the best. For the past ten years, Swinney has consistently landed some of the top prospects in the nation. Not just the top, but the tip-top. Five-star recruits. The best at their positions.

It takes a special swag to be able to walk into a living room, look parents in the eyes, and convince them to send their son to your school. He is asking parents to entrust all the hard work and investment in their son into his program. These players are not just coming to play football; they are committing to give their lives to his program for up to five years. They’re placing their future in his hands. The amount of trust, transparency, and relationship this takes is beyond comprehension for most people. Yet Dabo, somehow, repeatedly seals the commitment, and everyone ends up winning. Clemson gets a stud. Stud gets a scholarship. Parents get peace of mind. Everyone wins. In fact, the wins have just continued to pile up in the decade since Dabo took the reins at Clemson.

Over 130 wins.

Six ACC Conference titles.

Eight ACC Atlantic Division titles.

Three appearances in College Football Playoffs.

Two National Championships.2

Winning has become so common that now the top players in the country are actually begging to get into his program. How has he pulled this off? What is the secret?

Relationships.

Clemson is a family. Swinney says it all the time. When he recruits players, he invites them to join his family. Will they be playing football? Absolutely. But they will also be coming over to his home for dinner. They’ll be invited to church with him. They’ll know his wife and they’ll be friends with his kids. They will band up with the other brothers on the team and be held accountable while being encouraged. Any time you hear Dabo Swinney talk about his coaching staff and players, he emphasizes the culture of family and relationships. The relationships in his program provide the power to overcome and achieve the desired result. He has found the key to success comes from the following reality:

Relationships matter more than results.

Relationships were the focus of Dabo’s speech during the post-game celebration after winning the championship. After listing off what seemed like his entire coaching staff and members of his family, he gave this response to ESPN reporter Sam Ponder when Sam asked what he was feeling in those moments:

It’s indescribable. You can’t make it up, only God can do this. Take a guy like me, from Pelham, go to Alabama, win a national championship, come to Clemson and have a chance to win a national championship against the best team in the country up until the last second of this game. And to see my guys fight, and just believe. … I told them that the difference in the game was gonna be love. That’s been my word all year, love, and I said tonight we’re gonna win it because we love each other. I told them at halftime that we’re gonna win the game. … I don’t know how, but we’re gonna win it. It doesn’t even seem real to me. It’s been an unbelievable eight years.3

I know it’s rare to hear a head coach credit love for winning a national championship, but you have to remember that Dabo Swinney isn’t just any old coach. He has ambition that is strengthened by humility. He doesn’t let pride convince him that results matter more than fostering relationships with his team.

As leaders, we have a natural ambition to do whatever we need to do to achieve our goal and make our dream a reality. Ambition is natural and healthy, but when it’s influenced by pride, ambition can keep you from your most important mission, which is to love. Pride will cause you to buy into the lie that results matter more than relationships.

People matter more than your product, your profits, or your performance. And while all of those things definitely matter, the key word to remember is more. Results do matter, but relationships matter more! Whether you’re a pastor, a coach, or a CEO, your success is most likely measured by what you do more than who you are. The “scoreboard” of your success tends to be the influence of your church, the number of wins you get each season, or your company’s profit margins. Many times, this scoreboard is created and imposed on you by other people in your industry or even by public perception. And whether you like it or not, there is a tendency for us, as leaders, to naturally begin measuring our success based on these metrics. Before you know it, you end up leading an organization that tends to value results over relationships. And these stories never end well. But when we temper our ambition with humility, like Dabo Swinney, we can achieve the success we desire without using people in the process.

There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus Himself highlighted this very principle. He was traveling between two cities and decided to stop and spend some time with a few friends at their home. Even though Mary and Martha invited Jesus to come inside and hang out, they were not fully prepared for His arrival. At least Martha wasn’t. Like many of us would, Martha sprang into action and began cleaning the place up. She fixed the throw pillows on the couch, put up the laundry on the table, and began to cook dinner for this special, but spontaneous, occasion. She was in full-tilt OCD cleaning mode while her sister Mary just sat in the living room talking with Jesus.4 If you’ve experienced a similar situation (minus the part about Jesus being your guest), you know how infuriating this scenario can be. Martha was busting her tail to create the best possible experience for Jesus while Mary was just sitting down. But in the process, Martha was missing what was most important: spending time with Jesus. Luke makes it a point to tell us, “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”5 In other words, she was more interested in what she was doing for Jesus rather than in being with Jesus.

Eventually, Martha got so upset that she power walked into the living room and called her sister out. “Jesus, don’t you even care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to come help me.” I can just feel Mary’s humiliation in this moment. She just got called out in front of the Son of God! This was a good old-fashioned sister showdown, and Jesus was sitting right in the middle of it.

Jesus’ response here is a memorable one. As leaders, we always place a high priority on getting things done and getting better. That is our job: to make people better, make organizations better, and make communities better. We will always value those who do over those who don’t. However, Jesus was profoundly clear in His response to Martha that relationships always matter more than results. He looked back at Martha, I think with a smile, and said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part.”6 Basically, He told Martha that her priorities were in the wrong place. Rather than serving and working and focusing on results, she should have placed priority on her relationship with Jesus.

Order your copy of Rise Above the Lies: Exposing the Lies That Leaders Believe & Embracing the Truths That Will Make You Succeed by Brandon Bowers

Featured Image Credit: LambeauLeap80 / Dabo Swinney / CC BY-SA 4.0